How To Prepare for a Cookieless Future: An Advertiser’s Guide

Despite recent news of an additional delay to the timeline for Google’s full deprecation of third-party cookie support, a cookieless future remains one of the biggest headlines in digital advertising. When news first hit the headlines about Google’s decision to phase out third-party browser cookies on its Chrome browser in 2020, it sparked a flurry of discussions and debates within the digital advertising industry. While many advertisers weren’t prepared for this seismic shift, it has since served as a wake-up call for the entire industry. Now, despite complete deprecation in Chrome targeting early 2025, we already live in a digital ecosystem which has decreased its reliance on third-party data signals, as they themselves have been undermined by stronger privacy practices and more advanced solutions.

Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome was never an isolated event. Even before Google’s initial announcement, other major browsers like Safari and Firefox had already taken steps to restrict third-party internet cookies. So, regardless of where you stand, one thing has been clear: preparing for a cookieless future is not optional—it’s essential for the survival and success of your advertising efforts.

This article will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the end of third-party cookie use in advertising. Read on to get the full picture of what a cookieless future means for advertisers and how you can prepare for it.  

What Are The Issues With Third-Party Cookies?

Understanding the shortcomings of third-party cookies is crucial when preparing for a cookieless future in online advertising. Let’s explore some of the weaknesses inherent in third-party cookies.

Cookies Are Not Transparent

One primary reason behind Google’s decision to eliminate third-party cookie support is the inherent lack of transparency associated with these tracking mechanisms. Session cookies, particularly third-party cookies, operate behind the scenes, often without users’ knowledge or explicit consent. This opacity raises significant concerns regarding privacy and data security, as users may be unaware of how much advertisers track and utilize their online activities for targeted advertising.

Like other major tech companies, Google has faced increasing scrutiny over its data handling practices. In an era marked by growing concerns over online privacy and data protection, cookie security has become a focal point of criticism. Critics argue that the indiscriminate collection and sharing of user data through third-party cookies erode trust and compromise user privacy.

By phasing out support for third-party cookies, Google aims to address these concerns and promote greater transparency in digital advertising practices. The move signals a shift towards a more privacy-centric approach, where users have greater control over how advertisers can use their data.

Cookies Are Not Persistent

Unlike first-party cookies, which the website sets once a user visits and remains tied to that specific domain, third-party cookies are not as persistent. Users can easily delete or block them through browser settings or third-party privacy tools, undermining their effectiveness for tracking and targeting purposes.

This lack of persistence poses significant challenges for you as an advertiser seeking to maintain continuity and accuracy in your targeting efforts. As an advertiser, you rely on cookies to track user behavior across multiple websites and sessions, allowing you to deliver personalized ads based on browsing history and preferences. However, the transient nature of third-party cookies makes it difficult to maintain a comprehensive view of user interactions over time.

Moreover, the rise of privacy-conscious consumers and the proliferation of ad-blocking tools have further exacerbated the problem of cookie persistence. As more users take steps to limit tracking and protect their privacy online, third-party cookies’ effectiveness diminishes, rendering them increasingly unreliable for advertisers.

Cookies Are Not Common

While third-party cookies have long been a staple of online advertising, their prevalence has declined in recent years due to various factors. One reason for the decreasing commonality of web page cookies is the proliferation of alternative devices and platforms that do not support traditional cookie-based tracking. 

With the rise of mobile devices, connected TVs, and other non-browser environments, cookies cannot effectively capture user interactions across these channels. This fragmentation of user engagement poses challenges for advertisers seeking to deliver cohesive and personalized experiences across multiple touchpoints.

Furthermore, the advent of privacy regulations and browser restrictions has further diminished the viability of third-party cookies as a reliable tracking mechanism. Browsers like Safari and Firefox have implemented stringent privacy measures that limit the use of third-party cookies. At the same time, regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have imposed restrictions on data collection and sharing practices.

As a result, advertisers are increasingly turning to alternative methods of tracking and targeting users, such as first-party data, contextual advertising, and cohort-based approaches. These approaches offer greater control and transparency while minimizing reliance on cookies and mitigating privacy concerns.

When Are Cookies Going To Disappear?

Google has adjusted their timeline for full deprecation of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser repeatedly. This week, they delayed the removal of cookies to the beginning of 2025, citing concerns raised by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) around industry testing and preparedness. This marks the third delay to the timeline, after initially targeting 2022. 

However, as we’ve stated, third-party cookies have already lost a great deal of their value as they are increasingly easy to opt out of, and already unsupported by multiple rival browsers. Google themselves had already removed third-party cookie support for 1% of Chrome users early this year to begin testing their alternate solutions, and will surely continue to proceed with gradually expanding testing as they work towards full deprecation.

A much broader trend towards increased privacy and data protection throughout the industry has also led many advertisers to already seek out solutions that are privacy-safe, cookieless, and – notably – already outperforming third-party cookies today. Those who fail to act now will be left behind by those who have already secured their cookieless solutions well ahead of the adjusted timeline.

What Does a Cookieless Future Mean for Advertisers?

If you’re an advertiser who once relied heavily on cookies on websites for targeting and tracking, the prospect of a cookieless future presents several implications worth considering. These include:

Implications for Privacy, Tracking, and Personalization

With the phasing out of third-party cookies, which have historically been instrumental in tracking user behavior across the web, maintaining the same level of precision in targeting and personalization is now challenging. This shift raises concerns about user privacy, as advertisers may now struggle to gather detailed insights into user preferences and behaviors without using third-party tracking mechanisms.

However, the cookieless future also presents opportunities for advertisers to explore alternative targeting methods that prioritize consumer privacy while still delivering relevant and personalized experiences. For instance, by leveraging first-party data and adopting contextual targeting techniques, you can continue to effectively reach your target audience without relying on invasive tracking technologies.

GDPR, CCPA, and Other Privacy Laws

The move towards a cookieless future will require you to reassess your advertising strategies to ensure compliance with privacy regulations and laws. GDPR, for instance, mandates explicit user consent for processing personal data, including using secure cookies for tracking and targeting purposes within the European Union. Similarly, CCPA allows California residents to opt out of selling their personal information, which encompasses using internet cookies for targeted advertising.

These privacy laws have profound implications for advertisers, as they necessitate reevaluation of data collection and processing practices to ensure compliance. In a cookieless future, you will have no option but to pivot towards alternative methods, such as first-party data and privacy-friendly advertising techniques, to effectively engage with consumers while respecting their privacy rights.

Audience Segmentation and Data Collection

Without the ability to rely on third-party cookies, you may find it more challenging to gather detailed insights into user preferences and behaviors. This could result in less granular audience segmentation and targeting, making it harder to effectively reach specific demographics or interest groups.

Moreover, the shift towards a cookieless future necessitates a greater emphasis on first-party data collection. You will need to cultivate direct relationships with your audience and obtain consent-based data to inform your targeting efforts. This may involve implementing strategies such as incentivized data collection, where you encourage users to provide information in exchange for personalized user experiences or exclusive content.

Conversion Tracking and Attribution Modeling

Traditionally, third-party cookies have been instrumental in tracking user interactions across the web and attributing conversions to specific advertising channels or campaigns. However, with the phasing out of third-party cookies, you’ll have to explore alternative methods for tracking conversions and attributing them to the appropriate sources.

Without third-party cookies, you may find it more difficult to accurately track user journeys and determine the effectiveness of your advertising efforts. This could result in less precise attribution modeling, making it challenging to identify which touchpoints contribute most to conversions and optimize advertising spend accordingly.

Opportunities in a Cookieless Future

While it might seem as though the odds are stacked against advertisers in a cookieless future, the reality is that this shift presents numerous opportunities if you’re willing to adapt, including:

Innovations in Advertising Technology

With the phasing out of third-party cookies, this shift has catalyzed a wave of innovation in the industry, leading to new solutions that offer more transparent and privacy-friendly ways to reach and engage audiences.

For one, advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have enabled advertisers to develop more sophisticated targeting algorithms that predict user behavior and preferences based on available data. This allows advertisers to deliver hyper-targeted and hyper-personalized ads to the right audience segments, even without third-party cookies. Our own suite of tools, AUDIENCEX Intelligence (AXi), is completely cookieless, privacy-safe, and can solve many of the challenges third-party cookie removal presents.

Another notable innovation is the development of privacy-preserving technologies, such as federated learning and differential privacy. These techniques allow advertisers to analyze data across multiple sources without compromising individual user privacy, enabling more robust targeting and personalization while adhering to strict privacy regulations.

First-Party Data and Contextual Targeting

As advertisers adapt to a cookieless future, the value of first-party data and contextual targeting will increase. With the limitations on third-party cookies, you’ll eventually have to turn to your customer data to inform targeting and personalization efforts. By leveraging first-party data, you can build direct relationships with your audience and deliver more personalized and relevant advertising experiences while respecting consumer privacy rights. 

Contextual targeting, which analyzes the content of a webpage to deliver relevant ads, will also gain traction as an effective alternative to traditional cookie-based targeting methods. This approach allows you to reach audiences based on their immediate interests and intent without relying on invasive tracking mechanisms. With multiple strategic partnerships, a partner like AUDIENCEX can provide access to solutions that provide advanced contextual targeting tools. These leverage emergent technology to identify the topic, tone, and sentiment of numerous types of content rapidly and place your advertising alongside relevant materials to increase audience engagement and conversions – and, at the same time, avoid unwanted associations. As AI-powered tools advance, contextual targeting technology can analyze a wide range of content formats with increasing efficacy, beyond text and into images and video content as well.

How To Develop a Comprehensive Cookieless Strategy

To survive in a cookieless future, you must approach the development of a cookieless strategy with careful consideration and strategic planning. Here are some steps and best practices you can adopt:

Test Everything

With the impending shift away from third-party cookies, it’s essential to experiment with different targeting methods, messaging approaches, and ad formats to identify what works best for your specific audience and objectives. For instance, conducting A/B testing and multivariate testing can help you compare different approaches and optimize your strategies based on real-world data and insights.

Moreover, testing should extend beyond ad performance metrics to include user experience, privacy compliance, and data transparency. This broader approach ensures that your strategies not only drive results but also align with user expectations and regulatory requirements. For example, you can conduct usability testing to assess how users interact with your website or app under different targeting methods. This can uncover any friction points or areas for improvement in the user journey.

Lastly, don’t hesitate to experiment with new technologies and innovations. Staying abreast of emerging trends and leveraging cutting-edge solutions can provide a competitive edge and unlock new opportunities for success in a cookieless future.

Explore Data Collaboration and Alliances To Expand Data Pools

In the absence of third-party data, leveraging partnerships with trusted entities such as publishers, data providers, and even non-competitive advertisers can significantly enhance your targeting capabilities. By leveraging first-party data and enriching it with complementary datasets from partners, you can create a more comprehensive view of their target audience. This is vital for more precise targeting and messaging strategies, leading to higher engagement and conversion rates.

Additionally, data collaboration and alliances provide advertisers with access to valuable insights and resources that may not be available through individual efforts. By pooling resources and expertise, advertisers can unlock new opportunities for innovation and growth in a cookieless future.

Nonetheless, establishing trust and transparency is paramount in these partnerships, with clear agreements outlining the scope of data sharing, usage, and protection. This is essential because it ensures all parties understand and adhere to strict data governance standards and privacy regulations. Clear agreements also help mitigate risks associated with data sharing, such as data breaches or misuse.

Use Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting offers several advantages in a cookieless future. First and foremost, it respects user privacy by not relying on personal data or tracking mechanisms. Instead, it delivers ads based on the content that users are actively engaging with, enhancing transparency and trust.

Moreover, contextual targeting can be highly effective in reaching users at key moments of relevance. It aligns ads with the content users are already interested in, ensuring you capture their attention when they are most receptive. This leads to higher engagement and conversion rates.

Furthermore, contextual targeting enables you to adapt to evolving content trends and user interests in real time. As content consumption patterns change, you can adjust your targeting strategies accordingly, ensuring your ads remain relevant and impactful.

A full-service digital advertising partner or agency can help with access to these solutions. For example, AUDIENCEX works with dedicated contextual targeting partners to provide advanced solutions that can leverage this technology in numerous content formats, ensuring relevance and engagement across digital channels.

Use Privacy-Compliant Technologies

While leveraging technologies in an attempt to adapt to a cookieless future may be your top priority as an advertiser, it’s imperative to ensure that these technologies prioritize consumer privacy and adhere to regulatory standards.

One such technology is the use of federated learning, which allows advertisers to train machine learning models on decentralized data sources without exposing sensitive user information. It aggregates insights from multiple devices and platforms in a privacy-preserving manner, enabling you to enhance targeting capabilities without compromising user privacy.

Another privacy-compliant technology is differential privacy, which introduces noise or randomness to data queries to protect individual users’ information. By adding a layer of privacy protection to data analysis processes, differential privacy ensures that user identities remain anonymous while enabling you to derive valuable insights.

Additionally, encrypted data storage and transmission protocols, such as homomorphic encryption and secure multiparty computation, can safeguard user data throughout its lifecycle. These technologies enable advertisers to securely analyze and utilize data without exposing it to unauthorized access or breaches.

As previously mentioned, our own AI-enabled suite, AXi, offers solutions that leverage emergent, privacy-compliant technologies. AXi is composed of three primary tools: AXi Predictor, AXi Optimizer, and AXi Explorer. AXi Predictor provides the ability to rapidly analyze your own first-party data, gathering crucial behavioral insights that can be referenced against log-level and historical data, as well as fully opted-in data sets, to perform rapid predictive analysis and build custom audiences that are more likely to convert. AXi Optimizer enables the use of custom bidding algorithms in programmatic advertising, ensuring your campaign is engineered toward your specific goals, as well as real-time optimization that autonomously adjusts based on performance throughout the lifecycle of your campaign. AXi Explorer provides seamless transparency throughout the digital landscape by providing one source of truth for your performance data, helping to provide insight into the customer journey and the efficacy of each touchpoint.

Tools like those leveraged by AXi are completely privacy-safe, never sharing personally identifiable information and only leveraging data that is provided with fully informed user consent. These solutions are already providing improved performance over solutions that rely on third-party cookies, and will be unaffected by the third-party data loss Google’s full deprecation will bring, regardless of when that may ultimately be.

Invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

With the limitations on third-party cookies, building and nurturing direct customer relationships becomes paramount. Investing in CRM systems offers a strategic approach to addressing this challenge. 

These systems allow you to collect and manage first-party data directly from your customers, including valuable information such as purchase history, preferences, and demographic data. This way, you can create detailed customer profiles and gain insights into your audience’s behavior and preferences, enabling more personalized targeting and messaging strategies.

Adopt New Identity Solutions

Adopting new identity solutions or alternative identifiers such as email addresses-based targeting, unified IDs, and device graphs is imperative for identifying your audience and effectively targeting them in a cookieless future. These solutions offer innovative methods for connecting with your target audience without relying on traditional third-party cookies. They also allow you to deliver personalized and relevant ads to your audience while respecting their privacy preferences and complying with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA.

Let Us Help You Find and Expand Your Audience

If you haven’t started preparing for a cookieless future, now is the time. It might feel like the loss of third-party cookies is a theoretical scenario that may never come to pass, but the truth is that in spite of Google’s delays, in many ways, it is already here.

At AUDIENCEX, we understand the impact this transition will have on your advertising efforts. That’s why we’re here to help you navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the cookieless future. As more and more cookieless technologies emerge, our teams are constantly researching, testing, and implementing these tools to develop the most effective, adaptable toolkits to meet the distinct individual needs of any client. By building our own suite of cookieless solutions while simultaneously pursuing strategic partnerships to provide access to a range of technology and data, we ensure that any advertiser can access tools and solutions to meet any need.

With our expertise in data-driven advertising and innovative targeting solutions, we’ll work with you to find and expand your audience effectively, ensuring that you remain competitive and successful in the evolving digital landscape. Please reach out to a member of our team today – we would be happy to explore your needs and goals and discuss how our tech-driven, adaptable cookieless solutions can help you deliver results today and through any shifts in the ever-evolving digital landscape.